Big O Millan's long run with Dust Bowl has been rewarding

Photo by Greg Eans, | Othello “Big O” Millan stands on the basketball court at Kendall-Perkins where the Dust Bowl will take place July 19-27.

Othello "Big O" Millan has experienced the Dust Bowl from virtually every angle — playing in the event since its inception, coaching championship team's in the Men's Open division, and serving as scoreboard operator or scorekeeper since the early 1980s.

Milan, now 67, is still at it.

"To me, the Dust Bowl is a great opportunity to get people together and enjoy the shared passion of basketball," Millan said. "Doesn't matter your race, gender, age, economic situation or any of that stuff — it's a melting, pot, a place where everyone can celebrate together.

"And, for the people who grew up in or around the Fifth Street area, it's almost like a homecoming. Every year at the same time in the summer, people know this event is going to take place and they know where it's going to take place — we've been at for a long time down here."

Indeed, this year's event — scheduled for July 19-27 — is the 46th annual, and Millan's memories go back to the very beginning.

One of the first individuals he became acquainted with on the west side was Dust Bowl founder Jerry Davenport.

"I played for a Dugan Best team that competed in an industrial league, and right from the start we took playing in the Dust Bowl seriously," Millan recalled. "We would practice beginning the last week of June to get accustomed to the heat we knew would be there in the latter part of July.

"The atmosphere in the early days was really outstanding. The kids in the neighborhood would come out to the park just to watch us practice — they loved it."

Basketball has always been a large part of Millan's life.

"I grew up playing a lot of sandlot ball and I just loved playing the game," he said. "I wasn't an exceptional player, but I played fundamental ball. I'd do whatever it took to win."

A 1970 Owensboro High School graduate, Millan played his last Dust Bowl game in 1980, before embarking on a successful coaching run in the event.

He was an assistant to Ricardo Fountain when Jimmie's Liquors Lakers won the Men's Open title in 1981, then he ascended to the head coach position — leading the team to five more championships between 1982-89.

In the early '80s, Larry "Chick" Owen taught Millan how to keep the scorebook — and he's been at it ever since.

He also served as Dust Bowl treasurer following Davenport's death at age 54 in May, 2003. Since then, Millan has also been taking entries and putting together the tournament brackets; gleaning some assistance in that are from former Kentucky Wesleyan College athletic director Roy Pickerill.

Millan worked eight years at American Cigar and began working at W.R. Grace and Co. in 1978, retiring from full-time employment in 2014.

Retiring from the Dust Bowl, of course, is another matter all together.

"I want to stay through the 50-year celebration of the event," Millan said. "I'm hoping some younger people will get involved and become the administration of the future. We've got some younger individuals there now, but we need more — we need new blood.

"It's a great community event, and I want to see it continue long after I'm out of it — I want to see the Dust Bowl go on forever."

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